County Down has a long history of seven-a-side tournaments. The forerunners of these were the five-a-side tournaments, which were an important feature of every sports day in the early part of the last century. During the 1930’s the Castlewellan “O’Rahilly’s” five-a-side team was practically unbeatable, Over the years Castlewellan has had a strong tradition of success in the “small number” games, and that tradition was established by the O’Rahillys five-a-side team.
In 1934 the Feis An Dún had been revived and the 5-a-side competition became a 7-a-side. It was a Castlewellan team that were the first winners of the Feis sevens (GAA Golden Jubilee year). Since then Castlewellan 7-a-side teams have won County Feis Sevens in every decade as well as numerous competitions across the County and further afield.
In the 1970’s 7-a-side football reached a new level when Kilmacud’s of Dublin started an All-Ireland Invitation 7-a-side competition. A Castlewellan team won their first All-Ireland title at Kilmacud in 1978, were Ulster 7’s winners the following year, won the Belfield (Dublin) All-Ireland sevens in 1980, and in 1981 the same Castlewellan team won Kilmacud 7’s for the second time. Castlewellan won a further three All-Ireland seven’s tiltles at Kilmacud in 1996 and 2000 and 2006. In 1991 a Castlewellan team travelled to New York and won the New York Invitation sevens.
The Club’s early success in the Kilmacud competition prompted the then St Malachy’s Club Secretary Gerry Dougherty to organise a similar competition north of the border hosted by his own Club and in 1980 the successful Castlewellan All-Ireland Sevens was born. The Castlewellan sevens panel that had won Kilmacud in 1978 and 1981 and Belfield in 1980 were also the first winners of the Castlewellan Seven’s in 1980. Castlewellan won their own sevens a further six times in the 25 year history of the competition between 1980 and 2004. Other teams to win the Castlewellan Sevens over the same period are :-St Mary’s (Sligo); Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin);Bryansford (Down);St Gall’s (Antrim); Scotstown (Monaghan);Tuam Stars (Galway);Loughinisland (Down);Bellaghy (Derry); U.U.J.(Antrim); and Longstone Down) [see Roll of Honour tab].
The Castlewellan Seven’s grew in strength and popularity over the years second only to the Dublin sevens, with the eve of the All-Ireland hurling final in Croke Park firmly established on the GAA calender as a 7-a-side day in Castlewellan. 7 – a – side football has changed from the days of the old annual sports competitions and in some areas has completely disappeared. However the club’s novel idea back in 1980 to invite teams from the four corners of Ireland proved to be more than successful with many GAA enthusiasts arriving in Castlewellan on Friday for a unique festive occasion before travelling on to Dublin on Sunday.
Seven’s 25th Jubilee Launch – 4th September 2004
To celebrate 25 years of the competition a “Silver Jubilee All star team was announced at the Launch of the 2004 competition in St Malachy’s Clubrooms on Saturday 4th September with the top names in the art of sevens football gaining selection onto the prestigious ‘All-Star Jubilee Team’.
Former Castlewellan great Colm Mc Alarney presented the successful team members with specially commissioned and engraved crystal Gaelic Footballs and personal scrolls of the “Silver Jubilee” team.
The Castlewellan All Star team 1980 – 2004 is:
(L to R) Martin Mc Kibben (Castlewellan Down); Dan Rice (Bryansford Down); Gareth Doherty (Bellaghy Derry); Ciaran Mc Cabe (Castlewellan Down); Brendan Mason (Loughinisland Down); Gerry Mc Carville (Scotstown Monaghan); Dermot Maher (Kilmacud Crokes Dublin); Mick Laffey (St Mary’s Sligo); Sean Og Mc Gourty (St Galls Antrim):
Also at the presentation function the Chairmen of all the previous winning club’s in the Castlewelan All Ireland Invitation 7’ received specially prepared and framed winner’s ‘scrolls’ to commemorate their success’s at the Castlewellan Sevens
They were:-St Mary’s (Sligo) represented by Mick Laffey; Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) represented by their Club Secretary Larry Ryan; Bryansford (Down) represented by Club Chairman Sean Brannigan; St Gall’s (Antrim) represented by Club Secretary Vincent Ward; Scotstown (Monaghan) represented by Club Chairman Eugene McKenna;Tuam Stars (Galway) represented by Club Chairman John Bolton; Loughinisland (Down) represented by Club Chairman Vincent McGlew; Bellaghy (Derry) represented by Club Secretary Kevin Doherty; U.U.J.(Antrim) represented by Club Chairman John Farrell; Longstone (Down) represented by Club Chairman Hugh Rodgers.
Over 200 guests and members attended the 2004 launch and jubilee year awards and an enjoyable evening was had by all. The evening concluded with buffet meal and dancing.
Sadly the popularity of the competition began to wane after 2004 with fewer teams entering in subsequent years particularly from the south. This was due to a variety of reasons beyond the Club’s control mainly the unavailability of teams at this particular time of the year because of the by now enlarged GAA calendar with teams hard pressed to complete league fixtures and with major Club Championship games still to be played. The Club did try to experiment with an earlier date for the annual competition but this date too proved as difficult to fulfil and reluctantly following the 2009 competition the Club decided that this once great competition was no longer viable on the scale that it had previously been and the whistle was finally blown. Perhaps it can once again be resurrected and the Club committee will continue to consider it’s viability in future years.
The Club are indebted to the following sponsors of the annual sevens since its inception in 1980.
Castlewellan Seven’s Sponsors 1980-2009
1980 – Tennents/UlsterBank
1981-85 – Guinness/U1ster Bank
1986 – Maginn’s Bars Castlewellan/U1ster Bank
1987 – Allied Irish Bank/Tennents Lager
1988-89 – Allied Irish Bank
1990-96 – Maginn’s Bars Castlewellan
1997 – Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey
1998 – Guinness
1999 – Guinness
2000 – Harp Lager
2001 – Down Democrat
2002 – Down Democrat
2003 – Down Democrat/O’Neill’s Irish International Sportswear
2004 – Down Democrat/O’Neill’s Irish International Sportswear/’Clubtel’
2005 – O’Neill’s Irish International Sportswear
2006 – O’Neill’s Irish International Sportswear
2007 – O’Neill’s Irish International Sportswear
2008 – O’Neill’s Irish International Sportswear
2009 – Azzurri Sport